What Is a Software Engineer?

Previously, we explored the role of software developer, examining the skills and responsibilities of this key tech position. Now, as promised, we’ll look at the related, and often overlapping, role of software engineer. 

As we explained before, it’s important to note that the terms software developer and software engineer are often used interchangeably. “The difference between the terms may be meaningful or not depending on many factors, including the industry, the organization, and the team in which you work.” 

As TechRepublic says, “Software engineers and software developers are interconnected, but mutually exclusive. Software developers help maintain existing software performance, recommend improvements, and develop updates or new software programs in code. The key difference is in the word "engineer," because engineers are involved in the development of software, but developers don't necessarily have the engineering background to be involved in that part of the process.”

“Software engineering is a branch of computer science which includes the development and building of computer systems software and applications software,” says CareerExplorer. “Software engineers have extensive knowledge of programming languages, software development, and computer operating systems, and they apply engineering principles to software creation.”

Skills and Requirements

The full scope of a software engineer’s work depends on the organization and the size of its development team, says Career Karma. The scope can be “as broad as designing, developing, and maintaining an entire product or as small as simply helping structure the code of an app on larger teams.” 

Given the breadth of the role, software engineers need a thorough understanding of computer systems in order to understand how infrastructure impacts software design, states Robert Half. And, to meet the requirements, engineers typically need a combination of education, experience, and training. 

“Most software engineers have a bachelor’s degree in computer science, programming, mathematics, or a related field, says ZipRecruiter. When getting started, you should consider learning a programming language such as C, C++, Java, or Python; seeking an internship to learn from experienced engineers; and contributing to open source projects. 

Duties and Responsibilities

Software engineers are responsible for designing, developing, deploying, and improving software products and systems, such as operating systems, networking systems, and mobile and web applications, states ITCareerFinder. Additionally, they say, software engineers can be divided into two main classifications: applications software engineers and systems software engineers. 

Robert Half outlines typical duties for a software engineer as follows:
Improving system quality by identifying issues and patterns and developing standard operating procedures

  • Enhancing applications by identifying areas for improvement, making recommendations and designing and implementing systems
  • Maintaining and improving existing codebases
  • Investigating and using new technologies where relevant
  • Providing written documentation and knowledge transfer material

Typical daily activities may include the following, says ITCareerFinder:

  • Analyze end users' needs and develop software solutions within time and cost constraints.
  • Test, debug, monitor, and document changes to computer systems and applications.
  • Create applications for the web and mobile devices.
  • Examine departmental goals and develop custom computer systems for organizations.
  • Upgrade existing computer programs to updated platforms with new specifications.
  • Recommend changes and enhancements to existing software systems and computer applications.
  • Recommend processes to ensure system security and data assurance across the systems that they're developing.

Check out the resources below to learn more about the role of software engineer. 

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